THE LATEST surge in Covid cases has led to a dip in demand for air travel, forcing airlines to rework their domestic schedules — and even cancel flights.
On Sunday, the country’s largest airline IndiGo announced the withdrawal of 20 per cent of its scheduled flights due to reduced demand. Full-service carrier Vistara said it is adjusting capacity in sync with changing demand. And, an Air India official said some flights on routes with multiple daily services are being merged based on the load factor.
According to data from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, domestic air passenger numbers have been witnessing a fall since the past two weeks when Covid cases started surging and various states began imposing restrictions. On January 8, the Ministry logged 2.41 lakh air passengers, down from 3.85 lakh recorded on December 26.
In terms of load factor, which is representative of demand, IndiGo reported 65.8 per cent on January 8 — on an average, over 34 out of its every 100 seats went unsold. Its low-cost rivals SpiceJet and GoFirst reported load factors of 68.5 per cent and 62.8 per cent, respectively. Air India’s load factor on Saturday was 67.4 per cent, while those of Vistara and AirAsia India were 53.6 per cent and 59.6 per cent, respectively.
“Owing to the increasing number of Omicron infections, large numbers of IndiGo customers are changing their travel plans. In response to customer needs, IndiGo is waiving change fees and is offering free changes for all new and existing bookings made up to 31st January, for flights up to 31st March 2022,” IndiGo said in a statement.
“With the reduced demand, we will also be selectively withdrawing some of our flights from service…We anticipate that around 20 per cent of our current scheduled operations will be withdrawn from service,” it said.
A Vistara spokesperson said: “We are observing a decline in demand for air travel due to the sudden surge in number of Covid-19 cases and travel restrictions/ quarantine requirements imposed by various states. At Vistara, we are monitoring the situation closely and adjusting capacity to demand. We are also trying to minimise the inconvenience to our customers by offering them various options such as rescheduling or refund etc as applicable”.
According to a senior executive with a low-cost airline, unused capacity means the airlines would be incurring the cost of flying half-empty planes in addition to fare dynamics being impacted. “There is no question of maintaining the capacity at subdued demand levels. Reducing the capacity will also give some room to adjust the fares so that profitability is not affected as much,” the executive said.